Modesty update

The Guardian letters page has recently featured an ongoing correspondence on the question of whether punctuation matters anymore. This follows a news report on plans to penalise GCSE students for poor punctuation and a ludicrous op-ed piece describing attempts to teach proper punctuation as “a discreet bourgeois fascism”. (Or perhaps I only think it was ludicrous because I’m a discreet bourgeois fascist. Whatever.)

I sent in a contribution to this discussion last week which didn’t get published, and I thought that was that. But it turns out they were obviously waiting for a quiet letters day before resuming this particular thread, and so my letter has appeared today:

Re punctuation (Letters, passim), Richard Brinsley Sheridan, when asked to apologise for calling a fellow MP a liar, replied: “Mr Speaker, I said the honourable member was a liar it is true and I am sorry for it. The honourable member may place the punctuation where he pleases.”

Good to have the opportunity to give that story – taken from Matthew Parris’ entertaining book Scorn – an outing. Though my favourite letter in this series, which prompted my own contribution, is one from earlier last week:

Kingsley Amis, challenged to produce a sentence whose meaning depended on an apostrophe, came up with: “Those things over there are my husbands.”

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